The Beautiful Life

“Expedition Happiness” Watch on Netflix. Or don’t.

Sometimes when I read blogs or watch documentaries all I can think is “How do these hipsters make it look so easy?”

I don’t know what kind of world these people live in, they are always young, always attractive, frequently childless, and always seem to have an endless stream of money. They seem more like fictional characters than real people. You have to wonder what they do for a living, are they ever stressed? Do they get bored? Do they fight? Where is the ugly in their life?

Sure, sometimes the bus breaks down, the visa gets denied, or the cake in the oven falls. But these people always seem to handle it with a smile. Or at the very least they look gorgeous while crying.

Well, that ain’t my life.

I get sick. Nothing productive happens for days at a stretch. My kids make giant messes, animals get into my trash, my trailer sometimes smells like something died in it.

People thrive on positive. We love comedy and run from tragedy. We live vicariously through these adventurers and beautiful hipsters. We don’t like our conventional lives, so we read about theirs and forget our problems for a bit.

But who’s to say your conventional life is ugly? Who’s to say you aren’t living a beautiful life, even if it isn’t quite the adventure these people seem to have? Life is a gift, even with its warts and wrinkles. Life is beautiful even with the sickness and the smells.

You don’t have to read blogs or watch fru-fru documentaries (both of which I do. Too much.) to enjoy a beautiful life. All you have to do is start enjoying yours.

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Judging A Book

Oh no, it’s that long haired hippie freak and his beard again…

What does your style say about you? Can someone really tell much just by what you wear or what you listen to? What do the various decorations you put on say to the world around you?

I walked into a country western store the other day. Everything in there was country, from the boots to the hats to jeans and the accessories. They even had redneck wine glasses. There was a guy in there with his son and they were both dressed to the hilt with rodeo garb. Needless to say my sandals, t-shirt, and long hair didn’t exactly fit in.

My wife works with a guy covered in tatoos. If you didn’t know him you would probably make an assumption that he has spent a bit of time in prison. Nothing could be further from the truth. He’s a hard worker who loves his kids.

I crossed paths with two guys in Wal-Mart who could have been drug dealers, but the well put together type. They were nothing but cordial when one of them almost ran into me. Definitely not the kind of reaction I would have expected if I had been judging them by their looks.

Even in church you meet some wiley looking characters. I grew up in a fairly well-to-do area where people dress up for church, and our church at “home” is filled with good-looking, tan, well dressed folks. It was a bit of a culture shock attending a mountain church. Mountain people live in a rough area, and they look the part. People come to church in jeans and graphic tees. They have mullets and scruffy unshaven faces. Some of them even smoke (gasp) in the parking lot. Yet they worship with sincerity and love God with all their hearts.

I love all these folks, from the tatooed characters in Wal-Mart to the well dressed folks in my home church. I may feel very conspicuous around many of them, and they may not always know how to talk to me, but every one of them is a person, created in the image of God, and worthy of love.

When we start judging people or expecting people to be just like us we risk alienating those who most need love. Christians stop spreading the Gospel. Imagine if Christ had avoided some of the people we do.

Now, this doesn’t mean we embrace sin. We shouldn’t be “inclusive” for the sake of political correctness or trying to make our church bankrolls bigger. Outright unrepentant sin should not be accepted by any true church.

But judging people by how they look and by their style is something no one should do.

Beauty and the Eyes of The Beholder 

Beauty 2/24/00

Beauty they say,                                         Is in the eye of the beholder, Something only skin deep.                   But why do those who lack it,           Hold their eyes and weep?
Sympathy passes on,                             into the life of the pained,               Lifting its head from the few who pass, Without knowing gain,                         But why do those who get it,             Wish to the skies for more?                 Life is filled with everything,             And everything is beautiful,               Life is dealt without sympathy,           And sympathy is alone,             Wondering,                                       Through black streets,                           And dark roads,                                   Lying in lonely disarray,                   While beauty is admired.

Is “beauty in the eye of the beholder” as the common phrase says?  Or is beauty objective and determined by fixed rules? 

When I hear someone say there are objective standards for beauty I often get the impression that what they really mean is “everyone should agree with my subjective opinion about what is beautiful.”  When pressed about these objective standards, most people who claim an objectivity about beauty will point to some cultural standard or some past expression of beauty that they personally find timeless and standard. These are obviously just subjective opinions held by the majority, not a truly objective set of standards. 

Is there an objective standard of beauty? Sure: God Himself. 

God is the only objective measure of all things. Since nothing is beautiful compared to the perfect God, it can be argued that nothing is truly beautiful. If this is true it can be argued that mankind is incapable of producing anything objectively beautiful. We merely produce ugly things and insist that they be called beautiful. 

That view is too pessimistic in my opinion.

God gave mankind a cognizance of beauty, therefore we can find beauty in nature. We know there is beauty because we know that a beautiful God created the universe and imparted beauty to it. Not only can we recognize beauty, we are part of that beauty, because we are made in His image.

If God made all things, does this make all things beautiful? In a sense everything God has made is beautiful. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” There isn’t anything ugly which God has made. So where does ugliness come from? 

The simple answer is this: sin. 

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’” – Isaiah 52:7

Good news is beautiful, the Gospel is beautiful, and news of happiness is beautiful.  In a sense beauty is truth: that which corresponds to reality. 

Sin both corrupts the beauty of God’s creation and distorts our ability to see it correctly. Sin distorts our mind’s interpretation of reality and therefore our ability to comprehend beauty is corrupt as well. The corruption of our souls often leads us to miss true beauty. Often we instead perceive true ugliness (sin) as beauty.

Does sin destroy our ability to see beauty at all? Some might say that we cannot truly see beauty because of our sin. I think we are capable of seeing beauty, but our minds corrupt and darken the beauty we see (see Romans 1).

So what is the objective standard, if any, for beauty?  I can only define beauty by what it is not. Anything which violates the Holy will of the Holy God is NOT beauty. Sin is not beautiful. Violence, lying, theft, illicit sex, idolatry, covetousness, and blasphemy are not beauty. Anything which is untrue is not beauty.

Objectively speaking then, anything which is not sinful can be considered beautiful. 

But what about subjectivity? Is beauty inherent in things or is it “in the eye of the beholder?”

To those with natural senses there are at least two things that I would say are universally considered beautiful: sunrises and stars. No one looks at either and says “that’s ugly!”  Other natural wonders could be added to this list, but every other one I can think of may be tainted by cultural perspectives, i.e. the ocean may be beautiful to islanders, but to inland folk it could be considered mysterious and terrifying. Perhaps even these cultural perspectives are tainted by sin (fear). 

The common thread through all of these beautiful things, whether they be natural things or Gospel things, is that they all point us to God. So if I was to answer the question “What is the objective standard for beauty?” I would say “That which is truth and that which points to God.”

And to me, that can take many forms.